Purchasing Intangibles: MoMA


MoMA is pioneering the latest art establishment encroahment on anti-establishment art: the purchasing of intangibles.

Spearheading their efforts in the field of performance art is Chief curator at large, Klaus Biesenback, a colorful character whose famously spare apartment was recently featured in W magazine.

In June 2008, under Biesenback’s guidance, MoMA purchased Tino Sehgal’s “Kiss” , a performance piece of subtle intricacy that was, until this purchase, only passed on by word of mouth and hands on (as it were) demonstration: from dancer to dancer.

Question: So how did they “buy” it?
Answer: by spoken contract.

Tino Sehgal described the piece to a MoMA curator; the MoMA curator passed it on. Along with the purchase of the spoken legacy, the MoMA also purchased reproduction rights. Save for the contracts, MoMA has succeded in purchasing something utterly intangible.

So far two other museums have purchased “The Kiss,” and The Tate, in London, and the Walker Art Center, in Minneapolis, are also grappling with new ways to save and sustain ephemeral and intangible arts.



“Online comments at MoMA’s site were fast and curious, ranging from “neat” and “cool” to “intellectual garbage,” “I’m mystified,” “pretentious nonsense,” and suspicions that the announcement was an early April Fools’ joke. Some of those in the “neat” and “cool” camp even proposed acquiring “e” and “ñ,” while the art blog Hyperallergic reported that the Chinese government had taken possession of the rest of the keyboard.”

ARTrocities: Timeline of the Bad and the Ugly

1961 Piero Manzoni: The Artist’s Shit: the artist sells, essentially, his “shit” in limited edition cans. We all have our favorites: this one’s a favorite of mine.

Of the many things I love about this piece, the most important is that it is the baldest, most hideously obscene insult that has ever been delivered by a piece of art.  It falls within a great tradition of biting the hand that feeds, and the subset of that, insulting the audience.

pieromanzoni_merda d'artista
Mr. Manzoni's Doodies, Apparently

1971 Chris Burden Shoot: A documented performance wherein the artist has his friend shoot him in the arm. You know you love it.

1972 Vito Acconci: Seedbed: A performance / installation wherein Mr. Acconci whispers not-so-sweet somethings while jerking off under the floorboards at the Sonnabend Gallery. How do we know he was really pulling it? Well, there are some pix…

Vito Not Barry White

Continue reading “ARTrocities: Timeline of the Bad and the Ugly”

Mr. Minor’s Winter of Discontent: Evening Sale at Phillips De Pury

Phillips de Pury & Company  The Richard Prince “Nurse” sold by Halsey Minor
Phillips de Pury & Company The Richard Prince “Nurse” sold by Halsey Minor

The spring auctions with their record sales prices swept a breath of fresh air into the fusty art markets, hunkered down as they were, bearish throughout the cold winter.

But the Thursday evening sale at Phillips de Pury stands as an ironic reminder that the winter of our discontent is not to be made glorious by the auction houses.

Continue reading “Mr. Minor’s Winter of Discontent: Evening Sale at Phillips De Pury”

QUOTES of the DAY: while Cat is out Sick

If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.
We are no longer collecting art, we are buying individuals.
~Rene Ricard
Why do people think artists are special? It’s just another job.
~Andy Warhol

Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.
~Andy Warhol
Promotion and perception are synonymous twins of art marketing.
~Jack White
Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.
~Salvador Dali
Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.
~Edgar Degas
The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes, and, ironically, the more real.
~Lucian Freud

Art Market Recovery: Tracing Improvements

$48 Mil Head of a Muse; Raphael
$48 Mil in 2009 for Raphael's Head of a Muse

As I continue to study the art market’s very slight, but seemingly strong rebound, I will continue to compile reports which should lend insight, not only to the workings of the art market as it improves, but to trends that should grow out of this latest bubble burst. What follows are some things to look out for and what they mean for the future.

Continue reading “Art Market Recovery: Tracing Improvements”


There’s a lot of talk about art market recovery, especially as generated by the auction houses. And each time a record hammer price is hit (like Tuesday’s $106.5 million Picasso’s 1932 “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust.”), the media jump on it, eager to announce that it’s a sign that the market is recovering. But we’ve really become very excited over the teeniest hint of growth, as you can see by this nifty chart that I frankensteined together from three Art Price.com charts.

Only the Contemporary art market shows notable recovery

Banksy Banks on Mystery (and fails?)


I recently posted two stories about Exit Through the Gift Shop , a documentary/comedy by Banksy, which claims to be a true story about a star-struck street art fan with a video camera, who becomes transformed into an “artist” himself through the magic of Banksy.

I laid bare my doubts about the integrity of the storyline in the movie: I speculated that it contained a clever mixture of truth and fiction which could not easily be teased out. I also said that, no matter the degree of fiction, the basic message is that art buyers exit through the gift shop — they buy in to a genre or a new thing or provenance and what they don’t do, is look for quality, take inventory, make critical decisions.

But there is one claim I made that I regret: I stated that anyone who continues to wonder about the degree of fiction, is missing the point.

Since then, I have changed my mind. We are looking for all out artistry, aren’t we? Don’t we want to know just how much of Mr. Brainwash‘s huge LA extravaganza, Life is Beautiful, and his subsequent New York show, ICONS,  were orchestrated by Banksy? And don’t we want to know how much of the Exit Through the Gift Shop story line is true and just how much ingenuity went into making the rest of the story come to life?

Don’t we want to discover a big clever net of contrivances?

Read on: the mystery unravels

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